In the realm of cinema, the 1975 blaxploitation feature “Dolemite” might be the closest thing that the medium has to folk art: its raw form carries strains of both naivety and shrewdness, resulting in a work that is mesmerizing for its utter lack of polished structure.
In typical blaxploitation fashion, the eponymous Dolemite (Rudy Ray Moore) is an anti-hero in a world full of villains. A pimp and nightclub owner, Dolemite is framed by crooked cops working on behalf of his rival Willie Green (D’Urville Martin, also the film’s director). After being paroled on the shaky premise of helping the authorities break a local crime ring, Dolemite discovers that Willie Green is now running his club and that his hookers are in the employ of the kindly madam Queen Bee (Lady Reed), who had the foresight to get the girls into a karate academy. With his army of martial arts-ready hoes and new sense of purpose, Dolemite is ready to get revenge on Willie Green and reestablish his reign as the flashiest pimp in the hood.
With its funk soundtrack, outlandishly tacky costumes, crass sex scenes and wild political incorrectness—especially with the comic relief heroin addict—“Dolemite” is a toxic time capsule from the shaggiest of all decades. Martin’s shaky directing skills fails to disguise the poverty of the budget or the screenplay, and the lo-fi climactic car chase is so painfully inept that it is almost brilliant in a so-bad-it’s-good manner. It is no wonder that so many people love “Dolemite,” if only for the wrong reasons.
But the real power here—indeed, the only reason to set aside time to watch this flick—is Moore, a minor party album comic who plumbed gold in his raunchy Dolemite. With scatological bravado (“Dolemite is my name and fucking up motherfuckers is my game!”), the title character steamrolls his way through one outlandish scene after another, creating comic and violent chaos wherever he goes. Whether taking carnal revenge on an untrustworthy ex-lover (“I’m going to give you a fucking you’ll never forget”) or calming a hooker joining him in a spooky church (“If you ever see a ghost, cut the motherfucker”) or entertaining street denizens with a comic rap about the Titanic (no quoting here—this one you have to hear to believe!), Moore’s Dolemite is toughest, dirtiest and funniest person the screen. And not even the surprise presence of the boom microphone hovering above a couple of scenes can steal attention away from Moore’s earthy energy. Who needs CGI idols when you have this fresh, profane dynamo of a superstar?